Before 1970, doctors used to lie to their patients all the time. They knew that some hypochondriacs became noticeably better when doctors gave them a sugar pill.
This was called "the placebo effect." After 1970, we thought of placebos differently. Researchers decided that for a drug to be deemed effective, it had to outperform a placebo. But we never stepped back and took a good hard look at the placebo and why it worked.
Harvard researcher Ted Kaptchuck has done that. He says the placebo effect can be administered like a drug, in different doses and achieve different results. He says the ritual of medicine — from the act of taking a pill, to whether the doctor stares thoughtfully into the distance while examining you — is far more than a placebo. This ritual can be used to increase the effectiveness of modern drugs.
Medicine is not all in the mind; we can't heal broken bones by thinking happy thoughts. But medicine may be more mental than we realize. Ted Kaptchuck speaks with David Hyde.